Immigration Legislation Into the Future

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Since last we touched on the topic here at NYRemezcla, the future of immigration legislation has been tossed to the wind by the November elections. Pro-restriction Republicans seemed convinced that their hard line on immigration was so in sync with the sentiments of the American people that it would carry them to electoral victory, particularly in the southwest and south. They may have spoken too soon.

In the months leading up to the election, candidates aiming for seats on each side of the aisle hurled forth their ideas and proposals for immigration reform, and the GOP-led Congress seemed determined to get things done. With the passage of the Secure Fence Act, Congress and the White House approved the construction of hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border, though they did so without approving the funding needed to actually build the fence. This left many of us to wonder if all the immigration gusto was just to rustle up votes before the election. Now we’ll find out if all the hot air was just that, or if it will serve to fill the sails of some sort of change in the course of immigration legislation and enforcement — and what tack that course will take in the soon-to-be-Democrat climes of Capitol Hill.

Will the winds dissipate now that they have outlived their political usefulness? Will they shift from the direction of restriction and enforcement-only towards legislative reform? Will the lame-duck Republicans try to finish the job they started?

The American Immigration Lawyers Assoc. (AILA) notes in a recent press release that “a giant impediment to meaningful reform of our immigration system has been dislodged.” The group’s president, Carla Tapia-Ruano, said, “The rigid, impractical position on undocumented immigration set forth by hard-liners failed to connect with voters.”

But some enforcement-only advocates claim that it was the situation in Iraq that swung the voting levers to the Democrats’ candidates and not immigration, that the American electorate favors a hard line on immigration but saw Iraq as taking priority.

Still others, like the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR), claim that Democrats took back the Hill under the steam of enforcement-only attacks on sitting Republican legislators, saying, “In countless races across the country Democrats pointed to Congress’ failure to control illegal immigration.”

Regardless of whether the election was a referendum on immigration, however, the next several months may tell whether the torrent of promises blustered about on the campaign trail will translate into legislative action once the new Congress convenes — and what form that action will take.

But actions underway around the country continue at the local level, perhaps unfettered by national changes. On Oct. 31, a federal judge blocked the enacting of the now infamous Hazleton, Pa., law that would have forbidden renting living space to undocumented immigrants, among other things.  Nov. 3 saw the filing of a lawsuit against Escondido, Ca., “charging that the city’s anti-immigration ordinance is unconstitutional and illegal under federal and state law,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  And a coalition of pro-immigrant groups has filed a class-action lawsuit in Maricopa County, Az., hoping to have declared unconstitutional a local law under which, the groups claim, over 300 migrants have been charged with felony crimes for allegedly conspiring to transport themselves across the border.

This new Congress, our 110th, must preempt more local chaos with a strong reformation of our immigration laws and processes at a federal level. Our legislators and courts have established that the Constitution mandates that control over immigration issues belongs to the Federal government alone — and not to the whims of small-town mayors scattered across our country. Immigration concerns our national borders, and we as a nation must take strong strides towards fixing not only the system but our outlook. We must refuse to let fear cloud our good sense and bigotry to stymie our compassion. We must decide to uphold our national creeds that pledge freedom, democracy, and equality to all people, and we must enter the next legislative sessions — and the next Presidential election — resolute, fair, and brave as we tout ourselves to be.